Book Review – The Coma by Alex Garland

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror / Suspense
Publication Date: July 7th, 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber

“When we wake, we die.”

Give The Coma a second chance, if at first it seems unclear or confusing. This novel is one of the moody, enigmatic types that likes to be shy with its details on your initial read-through, which gain an eerier significance on a revisit. It’s like an abstract painting in every sense, building up its steady storm of colours with intentions both sinister and serene.

Told through the deterioration of a man, Carl’s, psyche, after he is beaten to the point of unconsciousness on the subway, it’s less a linear story than it is a dreamlike exploration. In the aftermath of supposedly waking up, the pieces of reality that were once there don’t fit cleanly together anymore.

Maybe I’ve made it sound pretentious (a bad habit of mine when it comes to poetic books) but surprisingly, it’s not. Not even remotely. It’s just difficult to put into words. I read this a few years ago and wasn’t quite sure if I enjoyed it or not. I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time, and remember thinking it was ambitious, but perplexing. I didn’t get it, but it haunted me. Now I think it’s actually a brilliant psychological novella. A philosophy of dream to aspire to, that leaves you with a ravenous need to know, while allowing the reader freedom to come to their own conclusions about what happens.

The Coma kind of hooks you in without your say-so, Garland’s abstract writing always skirting the bare edge of creepiness, like there’s some cosmic, horrifying realization budding under the surface that you know you’re going to have to face.

“I do all this alone. Everything I achieve, I achieve alone, because it’s my head I’m locked into, and I share this space with nobody but myself.”

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Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Mystery
Series: Blue Ant
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2003
Publisher: Penguin

“We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.”

Pattern Recognition is a capsule from which paranoia gradually blossoms. Earth is a microcosm, really, in the great span of things, but the rapid onset of technology and connection have had the ironic downside of making it feel as small as it is, tightly webbed yet somehow immensely lonely.

Predictable as it might be for me to say it, this novel feels eerily prescient and knowing in a way that goes beyond the author’s imagination. It seems to have anticipated that strange lonely closeness creeping in through our screens. There exists a paradox of clarity and riddle, or perhaps reality and falsehood, in its pages that makes it feel like something you’ve actually just watched unfold.

Gibson’s phenomenal writing does outclass the actual plot, I suppose, but it’s a pretty lofty height the story would have to reach in order to match the way it’s told. The writing in itself is a network of intricacy, the edges of deep, impenetrable mystery just visible as it develops the variables of its equation. Gibson uses the raw delicacy of poetry and yet keeps it secretive, an outstretched hand seeming to offer everything upfront but hiding a labyrinth of tiny microbes you’ll never see working against you.
There are stretches, especially in the beginning, that could easy have been boring if it’d been written by anybody else, but instead feel rather like a brief reprise before the catastrophe sets in. Continue reading “Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson”

Book Review – Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Adventure / Post-Apocalyptic
Publication Date: August 28th, 2018
Publisher: Razorbill

“Four years ago this had been a fantasy. Trapped on a beach with nothing but a gut wound, her best friend, and this very ship in pieces. Caledonia could only dream of the day she had the means to stand up and fight. It had come sooner than she could have hoped, the morning Pisces looked at her square in the eyes and said she wanted revenge. It came as they bent their minds to the task of recovering their ship. It came one girl at a time.”

Oh, I am conflicted. Flighty as the tides that carry in the flotsam and treasure alike. Let me just say that I adore this novel. In most aspects, I do. But the traits I didn’t like are extremely troubling in a relentless way that niggles at the back of your head. This book is its own contained Stop & Go Station, a whiplash of dark and urgent and whimsical and tranquil that is still somehow extremely addictive either way it goes. But it also makes you nervous because it’s very obvious when someone’s bound to die.

I really appreciate the simpler prose. Parker doesn’t inject what is really a pretty straightforward story with lacy, flowery padding. My biggest issue was how the characterization was handled, but I’ll get to that. The plot of Seafire concerns a young woman, Caledonia, who along with her best friend, Pisces are the sole survivors of a massacre upon their ship, in some kind of apocalyptic era where the world is extremely hot and oceanic. The waters are controlled by a warlord named Aric Athair who forcibly recruits children and turns them into soulless murder machines.

The praise suggested it was inspired by the film Fury Road, which I was afraid, because it was the praise that compared the two, that Seafire would just be a straight rip-off. Thankfully, it’s not, though there are distinct shades of that movie in this. If you liked it, you’d probably like this too. I did, anyway. Continue reading “Book Review – Seafire by Natalie C. Parker”

Lovecraft Reviews – “The Book” and “Memory”

The Book – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Autumn 1933

“For he who passes the gateway always wins a shadow, and never again can he be alone.”

The Necronomicon strikes again in its coat of human skin, to terrorize a poor stranger who happens to find it lying by a gutter. It’s interesting how throughout H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work, the book of curses manages to destroy reality in such a variety of different ways. In this incarnation, it wavers reality through its very fabric, and the narrator is stalked through the state of flux by a hoard of beings he cannot see.

Does “The Book” sounds familiar? That’s because it’s an apparently incomplete reimagining, or perhaps another version, of “The Festival”. The prose is tighter in this story, at least, and it has traces of that unusual dream-discomfort I love to see in horror and suspense, but this and “The Festival” are essentially the same plot with a different outcome. Reading a heavy dose of Lovecraft at once can, in fact, invoke a feeling of those “choose-your-own-adventure” books from the 90s.

The 1890s, that is.

Memory – ★★★ 3 Stars

Written: Spring 1919

“Memory” recalls a primordial past, a vein of previous selves that are perhaps better left behind. This free verse piece has the atmosphere of a sinister, dystopian Arabian Nights, but that’s really the only strength it has to tell, as it’s only three pages. I’ve always thought that Lovecraft was more cut out for poems and prose than storytelling, personally, though his creative ideas were psychedelic and grotesque, mostly in a good way.

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Book Review – Smashed by Junji Ito

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Short Stories
Publication Date: April 16th, 2019
Publisher: VIZ

An unabashed Itoholic, I’d already read most of these shorts years ago. To see them together in such a physically, artistically beautiful collection however, is much appreciated. Smashed is a peculiar mash-up of two or three previous books by Ito that never made it into English translation during their run, one being the infamous and beloved Yami no Koe, or Voices in the Dark. I noticed them blending books with their reprint of Ito’s Frankenstein last year. It is needlessly confusing, but hey, horror manga is actually starting to be taken seriously as an art now, thank the Great Old Ones, so I’m not complaining.

Smashed is admittedly not the strongest set of stories, I suppose, but this is the kind of Ito I like best. The stories that lurk here are eldritch and teeming with a preternatural urge for revenge, existing somewhere in-between visceral and psychological horror. They’re all at least decent story-wise and will give you a twisted sort of Stendhal Syndrome art-wise. I don’t ever find horror books that terrifying, so I can’t estimate a fair judgment of whether it might be to someone else or not, but Ito is always inventive, which is what I admire in the genre.

“Bloodsucking Darkness” –★★★★
A reverse vampire tale wherein someone drains their own blood to feed another who is starving. This is an unexpected and strange metaphor for eating disorders. It’s bittersweet and surprisingly in-tune with such a difficult topic, for what it is. “Bloodsucking Darkness” reminds me of another short, “Bio House”, except slightly more wholesome. Both have to do with a woman who finds herself drinking blood under unlikely circumstances.

“Ghosts of Prime Time” –★★★
Imagine being such a painfully unfunny comedian that you have to possess people into laughing at your jokes. “Ghosts of Prime Time” focuses on a comedienne duo who are that terrible, and kill their critics as well. Like many of these, this skirts the edge of social commentary but I have no idea what exactly it’s supposed to mean, if anything. It’s not particularly creepy but it is relatable.

“Roar” –★★★
This one is also not scary, however, the concept of a phantom flood which a living person can still drown in is really unique. This is a simple ghost story but thought-provoking in its own way. Continue reading “Book Review – Smashed by Junji Ito”

Lovecraft Reviews – “The Colour Out of Space”

The Colour Out of Space – ★★★★★ 5 Stars

Written: Spring 1927

“This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes and photographic plates of our observatories. This was no breath from the skies whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem too vast to measure. It was just a colour out of space – a frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it.”

With the blossom of an unnatural and premature spring brings corruption that is unfit for the eye or mind. “The Colour Out of Space” is a prime piece of botanical horror, planting all of the discomforts there can be about things that arrive with the spring – water, mold, and flora.
This is so far my favourite short story by Lovecraft, other than maybe “The Rats in the Walls”, but the racial insensitivity in that story causes me to like it much less than this one.

“The Colour Out of Space” regards a nameless man who looks into a strange piece of farmland that none of the locals will touch, nicknamed ‘the blasted heath’ for its rotting and burnt appearance. He discovers through talking with a local named Ammi Pearce, that the land’s corruption began with a meteorite that crashed there, as well as something strange that settled in the farm’s well, and investigates its history.

This is a terrific and terrifying short that settles on your skin like cold mildew, especially the fate of the farmers themselves. The imagery and physical horror that develops as the narrator learns more about the cosmic disease that’s settled on the farm is absolutely uncomfortable, but you want to know more about it.

The disease is keeping its secrets, however.

“The reservoir will soon be built now, and all those elder secrets will be safe forever under watery fathoms. But even then I do not believe I would like to visit that country by night – at least, not when the sinister stars are out; and nothing could bribe me to drink the new city water of Arkham…”

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Book Review – The Umbrella Conspiracy by S.D. Perry

★★★★ 4 Stars

Series: Resident Evil
Genre: Horror / Mystery
Publication Date: October 1st, 1998
Publisher: Pocket Books

Resident Evil is the sole survivor, pun intended, of the clash of survival horror series that began in the late 90s. It’s pretty much the only one of its genre still thriving, like a green-veined heart thumping in a jar of chemicals.
You have to appreciate its longevity, and also the fact that a novel based on a video game with near-diabolical writing is actually pretty solid. I like Resident Evil as much as anyone, but the first game did have the worst dialogue ever, no contest. To the point where it’s more or less a mansion-sized meme. Really.

Thankfully, Perry realized this and toned it down. The characters and plot are decent. The writing is straightforward but intriguing and captures the anxiety of being hunted down that the games execute so well. That panicked mystery of never knowing what you would find behind any door is what made the games scary, even before their imagery had become realistic and terrifying in later entries. I love to picture this feeling in a horror novel, and the way the puzzles in the game are incorporated into the narrative are interesting. Continue reading “Book Review – The Umbrella Conspiracy by S.D. Perry”

Lovecraft Reviews – “Ex Oblivione” & “Azathoth”

Azathoth – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Summer 1922

“Azathoth” is a poem of dream states alchemically combusting, a transcription of what it’s like to give oneself to the void.
The name refers to a demon of sorts that is mentioned in some of Lovecraft’s novels, but before I knew that I thought it was a corruption of azoth, which in alchemy, is the ultimate medicine. So I suppose Azathoth would be the ultimate poison, wouldn’t it?

This is a prose piece, that calls up a lot of dreamy, lotus-eating imagery. The creature Azathoth itself is supposed to be a sort of living black hole that is too evil for a solid shape, but is just a mass of everything disturbing and wrong. Its poem, however, is weirdly romantic, making me think that its nature must be to possess people into searching it.

Ex Oblivione – ★★★ 2.5 Stars

Written: Winter 1920-1921

“For doubt and secrecy are the lure of lures, and no new horror can be more terrible than the daily torture of the commonplace.

Curiosity killed the dream-sage. The writing is lovely, almost too much so, but what bothers me about “Ex Oblivione” is that it’s just rather samey.
It feels like a watered down or underdeveloped version of “The Nameless City”, which also came about in the same winter. Same delusion, different name. I do like the idea of returning to the unknowable, and in this case terrifying, roots of our species through dreams.

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Lovecraft Reviews – “The Nameless City”

The Nameless City – ★★★★ 4 Stars

Written: Winter 1921

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”

Before I get into the short story itself, this is where the sour root of the Necronomicon began to sprout its mysteries. While the cursed book won’t actually show itself in Lovecraft’s work for a few more years, “The Nameless City” is where it began to grow its pages.
The Necronomicon became so famous and so dreaded, that people began to fear its appearance in real life. Similar to how people thought the Voynich Manuscript was some kind of lost alien gardening manual, a lot of people thought the Necronomicon was an actual spellbook that you could… buy, for some reason? No doubt in part because of all the fake copies that came out. The only store that would have no qualms about selling evil incarnate would probably be a used bookstore.

Anyway. I love “The Nameless City”. I personally think it’s one of Lovecraft’s best. What I really appreciate about it is the strange sensitivity to dreams that’s there. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, it’s like you’ve found an explanation you’ve been seeking for years, and it’s both beautiful and traumatic at the same time.
The world of this story has shades of Agartha, a city thought to be in the earth’s core, but it’s like a twisted, unholy version of that idea. Continue reading “Lovecraft Reviews – “The Nameless City””

Book Review – Last Stop by Peter Lerangis

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Series: Watchers
Genre: Mystery / Science Fiction
Publication Date: November 1st, 1998
Publisher: Scholastic

Trains have mysteriously always had this reputation for being passages into the unknown, whether it be into death, time or another dimension entirely. The metaphor has remained really persistent, and I like a story that utilizes it well.

Last Stop started off alright, with a teenager, David Moore, having visions of his dad while riding the subrail, waiting for him at a station that’s not even there anymore, much less active as he sees it in the vision. This wouldn’t be too strange except that his father’s believed to be dead or insane, and in the vision he seems to be neither.
This is an interesting setup, and midway through the book becomes very engaging, with a conspiracy of alternate versions of the same city linked together. It’s kind of short, so the characterization given is surprisingly developed for how little time there is, especially David and Heather.
I mean, it’s passable but not great. There’s not anyone who strikes me as memorable, it’s more the concept that stands out.

There’s a dreamlike feeling to the gross, dingy urban settings that I liked a lot. The twist ending is crazy and actually catches you off-guard, which is something I appreciate in the day of the predictable cliffhanger. Last Stop feels extremely short, and there’s much more that could be done with all that this idea offers, but for what’s present it’s not bad. There’s apparently a lot of entries in this series, so it could improve.

(Okay. Something I found hilarious that I just have to mention – the father’s name is Alan Moore. In a series called Watchers. Alan Moore… and the Watchers. Hmm. This sounds unintentionally like an off-brand now. Who watches the watchers? I don’t think this was on purpose? But running across it was awesome.)

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Lovecraft Reviews – “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”

Beyond the Wall of Sleep – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Spring 1919

“We shall meet again – perhaps in the shining mists of Orion’s Sword, perhaps on a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia. Perhaps in unremembered dreams tonight; perhaps in some other form an aeon hence, when the solar system shall have been swept away.”

In dreams we hear songs which cannot be captured, yet which we will always long to hear while awake. We can hear in them our history, hidden away in other planets that are no longer our own.
In “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, a strange man from the boondocks, Joe Slater, is taken in for evaluation after a series of violent psychological attacks. A doctor there takes the opportunity to study the man’s mind more closely and notices that, while at first there doesn’t seem to be much to unravel, there seems to be two halves to his personality. There’s a weird and surprisingly heavy presence in the man at certain times which makes the doctor curious, and he begins to be obsessed with finding out who this is inhabiting Slater’s brain, because it’s certainly not him alone.

“Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is an exploration into the relationship between dreams, madness and the interconnected nature of living things, with a twist of the paranormal. It reminds me, even though it’s not super similar, of the Hypnos and Thanatos myth, with sleep often thought of as being the only link to death that does not involve dying. I feel like at least one of the characters is driven truly insane by the end, though it’s hard to tell which, and when.

This idea… has been done better, I hate to say, and in this instance Lovecraft’s writing style can get pretty grating, being more obsessed with twirling vocabulary around rather than telling us what is happening. No doubt it’s creative, though, and I can see shades of my favourite author in it. I suspect Junji Ito is a big fan of this particular story, having done several adaptations of it. If it piques your curiosity, “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is worth looking at. I would recommend the original as well as Ito’s “Long Dream” and “Den of the Sleep Demon”, which are similar but also improve upon the theme.

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Phantom Mechanism – Rebooting MHz

I don’t think I’ve ever even talked much about the original MHz that came out last May. I made it and still never knew what to think of it, was the problem. It also had a strange, rather off-putting cover which I suspect is why it didn’t get the views the others did. That, and MHz is also the only one of the chapbooks whose haiku I never posted episodically on this blog.
I guess it doesn’t matter because the series was initially an experiment in the first place, and just now are being revived as actual, tangible books, and no one in particular has nitpicked it except for me… but something about this one always made me feel peculiar. Bashful about it, even, from square one. I never wanted to promote it. MHz has the most interesting potential and yet I feel will always be damned, because how do you recommend a surreal mashup of sci-fi and Japanese horror inspirations, but in a poetry format?

MHz will definitely be the most entertaining and reigns-free to reboot. There are less rules or direction necessary (not that there was a plethora with the other three, exactly). And yet, I think it will always be the least popular. I might be wrong, but we’ll see in May or April.

The new MHz, and to a lesser extension the old MHz and the touched-up segments that showed up in Absolute Heaven (which I still need to prepare a print book for, as grueling as it will be), are loosely based around the imagery found in the filmography of Shinya Tsukamoto. If you have zero idea who that is, you absolutely need to look it up right now.
The colour-cast look to Tsukamoto’s films is entirely dreamlike – to the point of them feeling like re-watching some of your weirdest dreams that you recall pieces of at random times. I love that aesthetic dearly, and several of those movies. They’re not really story-heavy, relying more on personal interpretation and just good old-fashioned entertainment for your visual cortex. Tsukamoto, in general, is sort of the “anti” pretentious art film. His movies are artsy, but like a painting, not a philosophy thesis that the director is intent on shoving down your throat.

Am I getting off-topic? Okay, well, MHz is set to be the last redone chapbook at this point. I’ve entertained doing a fifth one just because they’re fun and relatively easy to write and I think people will like reading them, but I’m afraid attempting storytelling is taking a precedent over my poetry right now, and probably still will be when these come out. I have the date April 21st in mind for the first two (Infinite Summer and Blood Ballet), and the second half should come right behind. I know I keep talking about them but they will actually be in print soon. Promise.

Poem – “[Untitled.01]”

[Untitled.01]

I see you have become abandoned
Generated by a forlorn stranger
And left missing crucial numbers
Gaps in your surface that will only crumble
A hull of steel that was formed rusted
I’m afraid I cannot save you,
Only execute the end you desire

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Book Review – Doll Vol. 1 by Mitsukazu Mihara

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Drama
Manga Demographic: Josei
Publication Date: August 10th, 2004
Publisher: TokyoPop

What are the consequences of creating a person who cannot bleed? Who has no natural will, someone to do your dirty work or the things biologic humans wouldn’t dare? Doll, the lacy, angsty brainchild of artist Mitsukazu Mihara, attempts to answer such a question.
Doll is a prime example of a good mature graphic novel – it’s discomfiting and can be deeply off-putting with its dichotomy of feminine, soft artwork while probing into brutal, cruel themes. It’s a somewhat obscure gem with sharp observations about what makes something sentient “human”, but has some issues which detract from its good qualities pretty strongly. At least enough to make it more difficult to like than it should be.

I get that it’s the whole point that you’re supposed to be sympathetic to the Dolls, who are more or less android slaves with limited human senses and emotion. The consequences of synthetic life do feel real and overwhelming, but did the human characters have to be so insufferable?
The born-of-flesh humans in this series are vile, pampered, bundles of dysfunction waiting to get even worse and are just miserable to read about. They cause most of their own problems and leave their androids or in some cases, other real people to take the blame.

The only exceptions are the heiress in the first story, and the strict mother. Those two women have some of the strongest scenes and their narratives showcase how destructive society can be to women and assault victims, not helped at all by the introduction of what is essentially a new sub-type of human that anyone can destroy and abuse without consequence.
The most memorable part of Doll was “Maria” by far, though. A callous businessman falls in love with his Doll, so much that he has her illegally transplanted with human skin, nerves and parts to seem more real. Suspecting that she is a robot, even after the transplant, his jealous employees have no problem attacking their boss’s new “girlfriend”.

“Maria” alone is worth reading it for, even if a lot of this series’ characters so far are hideous people. I feel “Maria” says it all.
When something sentient, something living in every sense, is that close to a human eventually the differences will blur. Doll portrays a dystopia and a miracle of science at once.

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Book Review – The Plague Council by Eliza Taye

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Post-Apocalyptic
Series: Oceania
Publication Date: July 21st, 2018
Publisher: Independent

It is a fact that I met The Plague Council by the sea, and read it there with its heart beating in waves at my feet. Hearing the ebb and flow of the ocean firsthand is an injection of new life when the blood in your mind feels stagnant and sad. The best circumstance to read a new book.

The Plague Council begins what I believe will be a really original science fiction series, taking place in a post-apocalyptic society that is dying but has the chance to be renewed if they can relocate to the bottom of the sea where disease cannot reach what’s left of them. A different ebb and flow, of life versus death. I like that it’s a reverse reinvention of the Atlantis myth. Rather than rediscovering an older culture’s “Atlantis”, they build their own.

I’m drawn to the water as much as the wind. People share a lot in common with the ocean, beyond even the cautious phrase of science and reason, and more complex than the simple fearfulness of superstition.
We are made of its body, we need it. Importantly it also has the will to be merciful or murderous as it chooses. The ocean is a creator and yet also destructive towards its creations. Sounds much like a human personality, doesn’t it?

This story asks some interesting and sometimes uncomfortable questions about what people should choose in the case of a widespread disaster – in the wake of complete trauma, could we go back to the sea? Would it welcome us after what we’ve done to it, or destroy us? Who would be saved and who would be forgotten, and why? Is this more power than we should ever be given that some should decide these things while others have no say?

The writing is descriptive and clear, but I do wish some of the characters besides Jessica were more fleshed out. This prequel is a promising start though. I’m eager to start the main series and see where it takes me.

Book Review – Eden by Michael Robertson

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic / Horror
Publication Date: September 27th, 2014
Publisher: Independent

“They’ve more than coped. They’ve thrived. Who’d have thought that the next evolutionary step for humankind would be to take away our ability to think? Remove our ego, and we stop destroying one another.”

Eden is a pair of twin stories, “Eden” and “Pandora”. In both, the dead live again but incomplete, trapped in a sleepless state of blind hunger by a virus or else a curse. Eden stands out as different because here, existence as a zombie is seen for how undeniably tragic it is. Thought-provoking and bleak, it might be beautiful poetry if it didn’t involve eating the human you used to be.
I’m not normally a huge fan of zombie books but I enjoy them if they are unusual or fresh, and this short novella does a good job of that for being a read of only an hour or so.

“Eden” is the stronger short, being about a father and son living, or shall we say surviving in a government containment center, left to watch the remnants of their desolate world die through screens alone. They note that it seems disturbingly peaceful now compared to how it used to be, which carries a lot of terrible implications for them now that they seem to be worse off than the undead. This is definitely the better of the two stories, and you grow surprisingly close to the son, Mark, and his predicament as he begins to see less and less light from his future.

“Pandora” is confusing because it seems to start in the middle of the event, without really explaining what led to it. There is an elusive box that unleashes the undead, but why did the characters even have this, and how in the world did they get ahold of it? “Pandora” is good, but could’ve branched out. It feels like something was lost in the midst and it leaves so many questions in its trail.

Book Review – Lychee Light Club by Usamaru Furuya

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Dystopian
Manga Demographic: Seinen
Publication Date: April 26th, 2011
Publisher: Vertical

What makes a human? Emotion? Fear? Intellect? Or is it just flesh?
I always hesitate before labeling a book “insane”. “Insane” doesn’t tell you anything. But… a guy gets impaled through the stomach by a toilet in this book. I’m afraid the word I need for this doesn’t exist, so I’ll have to settle for “insane”. “Pathologically brilliant” may serve as a better substitute, if you so prefer.
Somewhere in the dimension beyond where anything is offensive was this story’s birthplace. It’s a great statement about dogmatism, but the blackness of its humor has pinned open more than a few eyelids, so be prepared!

Lychee Light Club is a mad dystopian drama about a high school chess club that devolves into a death cult à la Lord of the Flies. They become obsessed with Nazi occultism and eternal youth, and don’t care who they have to blind, disembowel or execute to get it. Mostly adults and bullies they don’t like at first, then each other. No one’s really off the table.

I imagine this is what LotF might’ve been if it had had a bleak industrial setting and Roger had usurped the group instead of Jack. Club captains Zera and Jaibo are much like Roger and Jack, with their callous cruelty multiplied by ten. Kamiya and the original Light Club’s members are almost voices of reason. Almost. But they too have shed their fair share of blood.

The club’s ultimate downfall is a robot they create together to bring them this coveted eternal youth – named Lychee for the fruit used to fuel him. Lychee is made out of human bits and scrap metal, but the human in him is what becomes their undoing.
A little bit of involuntary nausea and perhaps splurging is inevitable with some of this manga’s imagery, but it’s by Furuya, so it’ll be the prettiest nausea you’ll ever get.

I don’t turn down ero-guro books as a rule if I happen to find them. They tend to be obsessive and erotic and disgusting, and kind of like force-feeding your future nightmares new material, but every one I’ve ever read has been so good. Ero-guro is above all a genre of satire and is very self-aware. Lychee Light Club is in part an affectionate parody of the controversial artist, Suehiro Maruo and his (in)famous masterpiece, The Laughing Vampire, which had a similar dystopia. Maruo even shows up in a cameo as a crazy old street prophet. Fitting..?

The Laughing Vampire… oh, I could go in circles for months about how much I enjoyed that book. It’s kind of disappointing that many readers won’t get that Light Club is an homage to it, but it’s hilarious for those who do.
This comic’s not for everyone. The foul content is top-capacity, and you probably wouldn’t be able to let your poor old obaasan borrow it, but if you’re tired of reading stable and regular manga, the Light Club’s always waiting for you.

Book Review – Parasyte Vol. 1 by Hitoshi Iwaaki

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Science Fiction
Manga Demographic: Seinen
Publication Date: July 26th, 2011
Publisher: Kodansha

All about a boy and his alien mutation.
I don’t think I’ve read a book before that actually made the idea of having a sentient being burrowed up inside your arm sound awesome, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

Parasyte asks what separates humans from what they see as “lesser” life sharing the same Earth. Is mankind indeed the parasite? A sort of self-made malignancy eating up their own planet, that answers their conflicts with other species with extermination of that species? When an alien race lands on Earth and begin usurping the bodies of humans, will humans and these parasites be at odds because they are different or because they are on the level of rivals?

I’d low-key sought out this manga for awhile, but was kind of mixed about actually starting it because of the iffy status of its being in print at the time. Fortunately, Parasyte has since returned to regular print in an even better version (an anomaly for horror manga in English), so I don’t actually regret hesitating this time.
This was thoughtful and intense and surprisingly fun. Weirdly adorable too, thanks to the parasite Migi and his squirmy bug-eyes. Others have remarked that Parasyte can be something of a gorefest, which I suppose is true but I didn’t really get that from it. Not moreso than any other dark seinen series, anyway. You’d probably like it a lot even if you dislike rampant explosions of guts. Its violence is a little more tasteful than that, I think.

Book Review – Strange Secrets by Mike Russell

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Short Stories / Fantasy
Publication Date: February 8th, 2018
Publisher: StrangeBooks

Deny and defy, is that really the way to be about death? What does a being become when they die? A flower, perhaps a ghost, or do they unbecome anything at all? Death is secretive and shy, impossible to see but impossible to hide. We don’t talk about it within these walls, in any case.

Strange Secrets is a series of lucid dreams hovering on the line between madness and philosophy, wherever that lies. The whole blossom of it is hard to describe, it doesn’t exactly identify as a genre. Everyone in its pages is escaping the world they know which seems to have warped into an unreality that has, unquestionably, gone strange. It’s quirky and creative and funny while still having an Orwellian creepiness about it – the characters always seem to have their lives constricted by something they don’t understand.

“Death” and “life” are both foul words here. “Change” could be even fouler. To look at them bare is to risk having parts of one’s body melted, or split in two. To look at them is to bring a taboo corpse to life again. To look at them is to win all of the competitions and still fail everything.
But… at least it’s better than the alternative of never knowing the truth, isn’t it?

Personal favourites were “Missing Persons”, a novella-length short about censorship and sugarcoating things we dread, and “Maps”, an ominous and somewhat disturbing short about a boy whose father is an obsessive cartographer. I found the last story, “Forest” to be the low point, it’s a little boring. The rest are wonderful.

Book Review – Whisper by Lynette Noni

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Mystery
Publication Date: May 1st, 2018
Publisher: Pantera Press

Whisper is an organic drama encased in technological dread, a warning but wholly alive voice echoing through a sterile ward. The power of words is a mighty one, and it bears a price to match if words are abused.
It’s a literal interpretation of the potency of language and the tendency for words and actions to fall upon their creator – a young woman, titled only ‘Jane Doe’, is held and experimented on by the government against her will because it’s discovered that she can alter anything in the atmosphere – time, objects, people – with words alone.

It’s a cross of warm, poignant character-building with the brutal nature of scientific politic and the “end justifies the means” mentality. No one ever wants to take the blame for the aftermath of their creation, even if it means violating and erasing the humanity of its victims.

“With my mental image well in hand, I open my mouth and speak for the second time in over two and a half years. The sound I make is barely a whisper, but the power behind it knows no bounds.”

I liked Whisper‘s concept more than its execution, it falls a bit into typical YA form, hinting at so many deeper things but never breaking the surface. You can’t argue that it’s an interesting idea, though, and pretty original.

Quotes

  • “The ground is dissolving under my feet. Surely I must be sinking into an alternate dimension. One where silent girls are befriended by armored knights and bouncing children and swallowed up in dreams so real they bleed life into the very walls, turning the blandness of whites, greys and beiges into rainbows so dazzling that the air itself comes alive with their colors.”
  • “Some memories are buried for a reason, but it’s still hard to keep them at bay. A mother’s loving touch has the power to break through even the most fortified mental defenses.”
  • “That’s just how our minds are programmed – to recognize and match what we say to things we imagine. And that’s why, even though it’s the intent that matters, often our words come automatically with their own pre-attached power.”
  • “Words are too precious to throw around carelessly. Words demand respect. They are beautiful; they are terrible. They are a gift and a curse. I will never forget what they can do. Because words have cost me everything.”

 

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]